My name is David Zuva. I’m from Russia, from Odessa. I’ve been here twenty years. I’m a shoemaker. I repair shoes. This my profession. I worked in Russia in the same profession. I learned when I was small boy. My father teach me. All the family shoemakers–my whole family–my wife, me, my father, my brothers, my grandfather–all shoemakers. Zuva means "shoemaker." I live in Brooklyn. My shop is on 13th Street and 8th Avenue. It is thanks to God and to America, this shop.
It is the best working. If you are working, you can pay the rent, you pay taxes, you pay everything–you can make a living. This shop is all right. One day busy, one day slow. I just make a living. That’s it. I’m not making the big money here, but I do a living. I get salary. In Russia, it was easier. Because in Russia, for rent, you don’t pay. For material, you don’t pay. Factory give free materials. You work in a state shop and the Government gives you a piece of paper, and every month, you get all your supplies.
But, in America, good material no problem. In Russia, this is problem. No leather sole, nobody have leather. It’s rubber, rubber, rubber, that’s it. No never anything different. Million times more material here, all different stuff, all different color.
Everybody–all the family came over here. My brother sent me a paper to come. When I come here, I don’t know English, I can’t speak, I have a big problem. My wife was sick, I got two kids. Now everybody is big. My daughter got married, my son got into the business here. I teach him. I got work, he got work. It’s all right. He got married. Everybody make it for living. I just renew lease for five years more. After five years more, maybe I retire. I give my grandson this business. I’ll teach him, if he like. Maybe he want to go to college, I don’t know.
I’m working very hard here. If you don’t have a job, then you can’t pay rent. You have to pay every month. Either I have a job or I don’t have a job, but each month, you have to pay rent. The landlord don’t know I got job or I don’t have a job. He just wants me to pay. Electrician and telephone–everything. So the problem is if you don’t have job. Right now, business is very slow because it is very hot outside. Summer, everyone wear sneakers or slippers–that’s it. Not bad is September, October, November. This is not bad. In winter, very slow also. Weather cold, people don’t walk outside. April a little better, coming better. When nice weather, after snow, wet—when your shoes get wet, of course, you bring to shoemaker, he take, waterproof it, fix it, fix the sole, glue it, make new sole, protection sole. I do everything. Heels usually, stitches sometimes, broken back sometimes.
I do everything for customer. I polish shoes. I never say no. Because you know, there is big competition, a lot of stores around. You know? Big competition. If I say "no" to you, you come to another shop, another store. So I try to do the best. I work Monday to Saturday, 8:00 to 6:00.
I like my job. For me I don’t care what kind of work I get. Customer is customer. You understand? You have to be nice in quality if you wanna see them again. I working all my life like this. You know, if I do the best quality, customer coming back. You know? This is my work. Sometimes, customer come, they bring a small job. I do small job. Next day, same customer bring me more–full sole or half sole. I’m not chicken. Big job or small job, I do everything. I try to do the best what I can. A customer brings the money. If I don’t have a customer, I can’t pay the rent, I can’t pay nothing. I can’t afford the apartment, I can’t afford my kids, I can’t afford to eat. What I can do? My wife working hard, my son working hard. Everybody working. My grandson go to school. When his summertime comes, I take care of him, he stay full-time with me in my shop. I teach him.
My father teach me when I was seven. Five years he teach me. I go to school. After school, he teach me. He worked in home. He had a profit business. He did new shoes, repair shoes of neighbors. When I go to school and finish my homework, he teach me. He said if you want one ruble for movie, you work, you got ruble. You don’t work, you got nothing. My father teach me like this. I teach my son like this. My son maybe teach his kids like this, I don’t know. This is who can make a living. If you don’t work–of course you can’t make a living, you just stay out on the street, drunk, and that’s all, like these people across the street. Stay on welfare or something, I don’t know. I am working full-time since I was twelve.
All customers are different. For everybody, I try to make it nice. Sometime something broke in home or daughter drunk, or son drunk, or making trouble, or someone die, and people come and nothing is good, and I try to make it nice. I smile, I talk nice, and I try to do the best that I can. I think this is a good point for me.
Leather for feet is better. When you buy leather shoes, I recommend to all the people that you get protection. Water don’t come inside, the leather stay better, not broken like this [indicates a pair of biker boots]. If you got protection, water don’t come inside. When water come inside leather, now I change everything. All new. Caulk inside, new shank, new heel, new sole, new bottom, everything, polish. I recommend to people change new sole. Or put new welt or new midsole and put on topsole. If somebody like these shoes, fix it. If not, throw away. My proverb, it is like this: make it good, and see again customer. You understand?
[Indicating a pair of loafers] This man, I fix him more than fifteen years of shoes. All the family comes. I know what he wanna do. He know my job, what I have to do. He bring me old boots, I give him back new boots. This sewing machine–more years than my son and me combined. This German Singer machine. More than hundred years old. Use for zippers, patches. Go through leather. For stitch job, I go by hand. When broken leather, I do all the patches, coat or jacket, I do so nobody see this. I put inside leather and make it nice.
Today rent is $1600 plus electrician and material cost–not small money–and material go up these years. When busy, I can make $100 a day–beyond what I pay. One hundred dollars, this is the best day. Usually, on a day like this, it is like $50, $40 profit. My thinking is: first the rent. Everyday when I wake up, I go to start work, and I forget my family, I forget everything. Just my brain, working just here. Just thinking about having good customer. And when I close door, I forget about work. I come home, I know my wife, I know my kids, I do everything in home. Forget business. When I come in business, forget everybody.
I tell you before, all the people different. And for everybody, you need key. For everybody need different key. For everybody, make it the same: nice and good. This is very difficult, but if you talk nice for people, tell them nice, you know, then you have no problem.
David Zuva was interviewed by John Bowe.
Edited by Sabin Streeter.
This is part of a series on Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood brought to you in collaboration with the editors of GiG, a book of interviews with people about their jobs. Click here for more information about GiG.